WASHINGTON — An estimated 90 billion barrels of undiscovered but technically recoverable oil — three years of world consumption — lie north of the Arctic Circle, the U.S. Geological Survey reported Wednesday.
While the oil, along with vast quantities of natural gas, will be extremely difficult to tap, the promise is enough to make the frozen north the new — and maybe last — frontier for world energy producers.
Undiscovered oil and gas are thought to be present based on geology and probability. If they're further confirmed, they become reserves.
Currently, the five nations that border the Arctic — the United States, Russia, Denmark, Canada and Norway — all have their eyes on what geologists say is about a quarter of the world's undiscovered but technically recoverable oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids.
According to the new survey, the Arctic Alaskan Province, which includes offshore seabeds, has the greatest potential for undiscovered oil, an estimated 30 billion barrels.
Mark Myers, the director of the U.S. Geological Survey, said he hoped that the new estimates would contribute to future energy decisions.
"Before we can make decisions about our future use of oil and gas and related decisions about protecting endangered species, native communities and the health of our planet, we need to know what's out there," he said in a statement.
Geologist Donald Gautier, who led the study, added, "In our judgment, (the Arctic Alaska Province) is the most obvious place to look for oil north of the Arctic Circle right now."
While Arctic Alaska has the greatest undiscovered energy potential, other big stocks are thought to lie in the Amerasia Basin north of the two continents and also east of Greenland.
The West Siberian Basin contained the most undiscovered natural gas, with 651 trillion cubic feet, followed by the East Barents Basins, with 318 trillion cubic feet, and Arctic Alaska, with 221 trillion cubic feet.
The geological survey's study didn't consider the cost of recovery, but will publish an economic analysis of likely costs next year, said Brenda Pierce, the coordinator of the agency's Energy Resources Program.
Energy companies already have identified more than 400 oil and gas fields north of the Arctic Circle. High energy prices and global warming are making the forbidding region more inviting than ever.